FINANCE

The most profitable retailers in sales per square foot are….

BY Marianne Wilson

Sales per square foot are declining across the board. But some retailers continue to pull in hefty revenue.

The No. 1 retailer in terms of sales per square foot is Apple Inc., which does a staggering $5,546 per square foot, according to research provided by CoStar.

Apple is followed by Murphy USA, which leads the gasoline and convenience store retail industry with sales of $3,721 per square foot. Next up is Tiffany & Co., which leads the jewelry sector with sales of $2,951 per square foot. The top apparel retailer is Lululemon Athletica, with sales of $1,560 per square foot.

These top performers far outdistance the rest of the industry. According to CoStar, sales per square foot have declined to an average of around $325 in recent years, down from nearly $375 in the early 2000s.

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NAFTA Renegotiations: What’s at Stake for Retailers?

In May, United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer began the formal process for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which establishes the rules of trade among Canada, Mexico and the United States. The retail sector has urged USTR to preserve NAFTA’s basic structure, while advocating changes that could help retailers begin sourcing more items from NAFTA countries rather than Asia. As explained below, the outcome of NAFTA renegotiation also will signal the future direction of U.S. trade law and policy.

Summary of NAFTA Renegotiation

The formal initiation of NAFTA’s renegotiation showed that President Trump had approved less drastic action than other potential options. Early in his administration President Trump reportedly was on the verge of withdrawing or terminating NAFTA. Doing so could have raised tariffs on at least some imports into the United States from Canada and Mexico, but Congressional action would be required to undo a complex web of statutory provisions in U.S. law that implemented NAFTA. Notably, although candidate Trump called NAFTA the “worst trade deal” in U.S. history, the Trump administration now talks of “modernization” of an “outdated” NAFTA.

The Trump administration’s focus, therefore, seems to be on improving NAFTA rather than starting from scratch in a redo of the entire agreement. As part of the renegotiation process, the Trump administration has solicited input from the public. The U.S. retail sector has been active in this process.

Retailers Have Urged that NAFTA’s Basic Framework Remain, with Changes

In its comments to the Trump administration, the retail sector has urged that a renegotiated NAFTA should not alter fundamental aspects of the current NAFTA. The Retail Leader’s Industry Association (RILA) and National Retail Federation (NRF) have requested that the administration “do no harm” to the current NAFTA and that the process to a modernized NAFTA be quick and “seamless.” Likewise, the Food Marketing Institute has stated that renegotiations should “maintain and build on the success” of NAFTA. Many others have similarly talked up NAFTA’s current benefits. These positions reflect the importance that retail trade associations attach to NAFTA in its current form.

At the same time, the retail sector is urging that NAFTA address new commercial realities. E-commerce retailers, an industry that did not exist at the time NAFTA was negotiated, note that NAFTA represents an opportunity to limit prohibitions on the free flow of information and to discourage Customs procedures that delay or tax internet transactions.

NAFTA contains complicated and product-specific rules of origin to determine whether an imported product is eligible for duty-free or reduced duties upon import. If a Mexican company imports Chinese-origin inputs and produces a finished product for shipment to the United States, NAFTA determines whether the imported product receives NAFTA (preferential) or Chinese (standard) tariff rates. In the footwear and apparel sector, RILA advocates rules of origin that would preserve existing supply chains while permitting new sourcing from NAFTA countries. This could allow, for example, fabric from southeast Asia to be converted to a finished product in Mexico and then be eligible for NAFTA’s preferential rates upon importation. Efforts to expand preferential rules of origin, however, are opposed by labor interests.

Other contentious areas could affect retailers indirectly. Some of the most controversial issues in NAFTA’s renegotiation include whether the agreement should contain enforceable labor standards, requirements for consumption of domestically-made inputs, stronger intellectual property protections, and sanitary, phytosanitary, and technical product standards among the NAFTA countries.

Fundamental tenants of U.S. trade policy are being reconsidered right now, with NAFTA’s renegotiation representing the fore of this debate. Thus, NAFTA’s renegotiation likely is the best indicator of what’s to come next in U.S. trade. In particular, we see NAFTA’s renegotiation as signaling trends that the business community, and retailers in particular, can expect moving forward under the Trump administration, including the following:

1. The possibility that free trade agreements will become vehicles for encouraging U.S. manufacturing. Retailers rely on preferential tariff rates for many items sold in their stores. NAFTA’s renegotiation could set a precedent for using free trade agreements to encourage more U.S. manufacturing, discourage investment in non-U.S. manufacturing and reorient supply chains to source from the United States and other free trade partners. The extent to which NAFTA renegotiation attempts to encourage U.S. manufacturing will signal the baseline for future free trade agreements. We wager that the outcome will be product or industry specific.

2. Changes accompanying NAFTA’s renegotiation could address antidumping and countervailing duty enforcement: Retailers can face rapid and profound changes in supply chains as the result of new AD/CVD cases. U.S. trade policy over the past 40 years has used free trade agreements to reduce trade barriers while permitting AD/CVD relief to protect domestic industries injured by imports. Domestic manufacturers, the Trump administration and Congress now are urging that AD/CVD enforcement be strengthened, either through NAFTA itself or by legislation that would be enacted along with a revised NAFTA.

3. The speed of renegotiation will show the political will to change the direction of trade: NAFTA implicates broad swathes of the U.S. economy, including retail businesses, agriculture and manufacturing. The Trump administration and Congress will have to balance many competing interests in reaching agreement on a renegotiated NAFTA. How quickly the Trump administration is able to conclude the renegotiation, and perhaps most importantly, Congress’s reaction to renegotiated deal, will demonstrate whether the United States is willing to change fundamental aspects of U.S. trade law and policy.

In short, the outcome of the NAFTA renegotiation will show where U.S. trade law and policy is heading. If finalized quickly, other significant changes are a realistic prospect. If the renegotiation gets bogged down either at the international level, or in Congress, this will signal a limited appetite for fundamental changes and will narrow the universe of potential outcomes over the next four years.


Michael P. House is a partner and firmwide Co-Chair of Perkins Coie’s International Trade Practice, where he advises on U.S. international trade law and policy, including free-trade agreements, trade negotiations, customs compliance and market access. He regularly represents clients before U.S. government trade agencies and federal courts in investigations of unfair import competition and trade remedies.

David J. Townsend is counsel at Perkins Coie, where he focuses on a wide variety of international trade matters affecting supply chains, including customs compliance, export controls, antidumping and countervailing duties, and issues arising under the NAFTA, WTO and other trade agreements. He also is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches on WTO agreements and trade policy.

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DESIGN/CONSTRUCTION

Department store retailer plans $40 million investment in remodels, new stores

BY Marianne Wilson

Not all department store retailers are closing stores.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Belk said it plans to open three new stores, part of a nearly $40 million investment in store remodels, capital improvements and new store openings in 2017.

The first two of the new stores will open on October 11, 2017, at Mullins Colony shopping center, Evans, Georgia, and at Greenwood Mall, Bowling Green, Kentucky. The third store will open in 2018, at Valley Mall Hagerstown, Maryland. The new stores will focus on the customer experience through a variety of ways, including a "buy online, pick up in store" service, phone charging stations and a service desk at the store entrance for quick, convenient access to services such as gift wrapping, returns and Belk Rewards Card payments.

In 2017, Belk also plans to remodel 12 existing stores across its 16-state footprint, an investment of nearly $10 million. An additional $15 million in funding will be used for capital improvements such as parking lots, paint and roofing.

"We've been successful in making a personal connection between our brand and our customers," said Lisa Harper, CEO, Belk, which operates 292 stores. "Our customers truly believe they know us and we are a part of their community; and they feel Belk is their store. We want to provide that level of personal connection in every community we enter."

Harper, the former CEO of Hot Topic and Gymboree Corp., took the reins of privately owned Belk in July 2016, becoming the first one outside the Belk family to run the company. She succeeded the retiring Tim Belk, who had served as CEO of the chain since 2004.

Belk was founded in 1888 by William Henry Belk. The long-time family-owned company was acquired by Sycamore Partners in a $3 billion deal at the end of 2015.

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